You don’t own culture, you are culture

2 minute read

We’ve been wringing our hands about our startup’s culture recently. Like any successful startup, we are not only growing our team but we’re adjusting and adopting our approach to work to suit our changing and chaotic environment.

As a management team, we talk about how to cultivate culture and preserve our core values. We bounce a lot of links and ideas around, but it’s difficult to see how we’ll gain traction or get buy-in. We really care how we will evolve because it is clear that it drives our ability to deliver a great product to our customers.

The disconnect comes from delivering actual inspiration into the teams through vision and collaboration and just forwarding links. There can be no “owner” or single champion to ensure cultural success. If everyone is not building the culture, then no one is.

Fungal bloom, not planted seeds

Good culture doesn’t really need cultivation and whether you like, or even recognise, your company’s culture, you already have one. More to the point, if you’re fretting about changing or preserving your culture, then it’s already dysfunctional.

Regardless of how structured you want your company to be, it all boils down to clear and frequent face-to-face communication. If everyone knows the values and is committed to the current direction, then management can stop fretting about purchasing the right chairs and Friday drinks and can focus on supporting the team’s success.

Propagation of Success

If you’re lucky enough to support a team, its important to remember that you don’t own culture, you are culture. If we don’t do anything else as leaders, we need to fuel our teams with all the information they need to keep meaningful momentum. If your team doesn’t see this flowing outward from you to the rest of the leadership team, then its cynical to expect any different of them.

Regardless of your position in the pecking order, you need to keep your team clear on:

  1. Vision - Where are we collectively heading?
  2. Strategy - How will we cover the journey together?
  3. Empowering information - Are we all moving in sync?
  4. Tactics - What are our specific near term destinations on the journey?

A great leader will find and empower people so that she only needs to carry vision. Everything else is emergent. But if in doubt, overshare. Your best people will be the quickest to help eliminate distractions.

Don’t be a broken record about your vision. Be 10,000 broken records.

Grow fast. Learn to listen. Drive change together.